With Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, the starting job is in the hands of second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Roethlisberger left the Steelers loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Heinz Field at halftime due to an elbow injury, which Coach Mike Tomlin confirmed in a statement will require season ending surgery.
Rudolph came into the game in the second half, making his NFL debut, and completed 12 of 19 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s crazy, losing the leader of our team,” said Rudolph in the locker room on Monday afternoon. “It’s a crazy turn of events. I am excited to step up. That’s what backups do. That is what I have done my entire career, whether it be high school, college or now. Nothing different for me. I am going to be the same person I am, continue to prepare. I try to prepare like I am the starter when I am not. I am going to continue to go through my weekly routine and put a good game plan together with the staff and go execute.”
When he left Heinz Field on Sunday the only thing Rudolph knew was Roethlisberger was slated to have an MRI. He had no idea how serious the injury was at that point. But the potential of stepping in at quarterback for even the short or long term was something that was definitely on his mind.
“I thought about it,” sad Rudolph. “I was waiting on the word, but you have to react to adversity. I am getting to play football and fulfill a dream and continue this at this level and I am excited to do it.”
Rudolph had not yet had the opportunity to talk to Roethlisberger, anticipating doing it later in the day on Monday. But he did say he heard the news like many of his teammates this morning when they came to work.
“I heard early this morning about the extent of the injury,” said Rudolph. “I was prepared either way to step up or continue my role.
“I am excited. It’s a sucky circumstance with our leader and a good friend going down. He would want me to step up and lead to the best of my ability and that is what I have always believed in, that is what I am going to do. I am just excited to get more practice reps. It will be fun to go into a game and feel more rehearsed and prepared. I am excited and am going to do what I have always done and step up to the plate.”
Rudolph said Roethlisberger talked to him on the sidelines during the second half, an encouraging voice helping him to see things the defense was doing and so forth. He plans on leaning on Roethlisberger as the season moves on as well.
“We talked a lot in between series like we always do,” said Rudolph. “He was very encouraging. Good communication like we always have.
“He is a legend. He is a future Hall of Famer. An unbelievable player. I truly learned something every week from him. He is a great player and I am going to continue to lean on him, meet with him as much as I can during the week.”
Rudolph said the offense didn’t change at all in the second half, running the same game plan they would have if Roethlisberger was still at the helm.
“It’s just a matter of Randy (Fichtner) asking me ‘What are your favorite calls?’” said Rudolph. “Every quarterback has their favorites out of the game plan. I always star my stuff and listen to what Ben likes in our meetings on Saturday night. I communicated that stuff to Randy and was ready to roll with my favorites. I don’t think it’s going to change. I am a prototypical guy. That is our offense and what they ask us to do. I don’t see that changing at all.”
Rudolph was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the 76th pick overall. He spent the year as the team’s No. 3 quarterback, not getting a single game snap as he was inactive all year.
To his credit, though, while he was idle he still approached every day as if he was the team’s starter, and it could pay dividends now.
“You have to attack every day like it’s your last, pour everything into it and prepare like you are the starter, and that is what I tried to do last year even though I was the No. 3 guy,” said Rudolph. “As tough as that was, I tried to wake up and accomplish goals in practice and get the reps I could and make the most of them. I prepared myself to be ready to roll. As long as I am ready for my opportunity, that’s all that matters.”
While he went into Sunday’s game with basically no time to prepare and did more than a standup job, he admits he is a guy who thrives on preparation.
“I am a big prep guy,” said Rudolph. “Having a whole week of reps, it will be awesome. Any time you can get the muscle memory it’s a huge part of it. I have never been a guy who can just go out and wing it. I have always been excited about the practice reps and going through the week. To have a chance to do it this week is good. I am looking forward to this week. It’s going to be a fun week of reps.
“I worked for this. I am taking it day by day. I enjoy playing with my teammates, coming to work, and playing pro football for a living. It’s a joy.”